Controversy at the Pejawar Mutt -- an integral part of the VHP and the Ram temple movement -- forces PM to stay away.
Aditi Phadnis reports from Mangalore.
IMAGE: Swami Vishvesha Tirtha of the Pejawar Mutt calls on Prime Minister Narendra D Modi in 2014. Photograph: Kind courtesy Wikipedia
In January 2017, an upheaval of a kind, never witnessed in the tranquil precincts of the famous Udupi Pejawar Mutt, occurred when Swami Vishva Vijaya, the former junior peethadhipati, filed a case in the Udupi civil court against all the eight branch heads of the Udupi math.
Madhvacharya, the philosopher saint who preached the Dvaita philosophy, founded the eight mutts, which now take turns in serving the Krishna temple at Udupi.
He also developed and taught the Madhva philosophy. The philosophy was derived from the Hindu shastras that students are expected to study in the mutt, apart from learning the customs, rituals and traditions that are different in every mutt.
The Pejawar Mutt, the bulwark of organised Hinduism, is an integral part of the Vishva Hindu Parishad and is actively involved in the Ram temple movement.
Swami Vishwesha Teertha, the 87-year-old peethadhipathi at present, called on Prime Minister Narendra D Modi in July 2014, a first in the saint pantheon to meet the PM. He is known for his liberal views and has even promoted the entry of Dalits into temples.
Last year, he also hosted an iftar on the Krishna temple premises and, thereafter, found himself in the eye of a storm, with the Sri Ram Sene demanding a bandh in Udupi against the decision.
But this time, Vishwesha Teertha is the principal defendant in the plaint against his follower Vishva Vijaya Teertha, who is now excommunicated and in exile.
At the heart of the rift is a six-month tour to the US and Canada that the junior Swami undertook in 1988 to spread the Madhva philosophy.
Vishva Vijaya claimed he went on the trip after obtaining his senior swamy's permission. But, on his return, Vishva Vijaya found the other mutt heads extremely critical of his visit because he had 'crossed the ocean' (sagarolangana).
Vishva Vijaya explained that it was not easy for him to turn his back on everything that had been instilled in him since he took sanyas, forsaking all the worldly pleasures of life and devoting himself to the service of Krishna and Madhvacharya.
"It is strange how people and swamijis are carrying on with so much hypocrisy. We claim our culture is greater than all other theories. But there is so much hypocrisy and double game. I feel disillusioned. It is very disgraceful that these people are living such false lives," he says in unaccented English.
What Vijaya Teertha wants is a constitution. One that will be a written codification of what a sanyasi can and cannot do, so that the affairs of the mutts are not run on anyone's whims and fancies.
"Go to any mutt. While the sanyasi will be the Mathadhipati, the manager of the mutt will invariably be his relatives. This is not right," he says.
"There are defects in the system, but there is no ichhashakti (will power) to correct them. Only serious steps will change all this. So, I had to go to the court. In any religion, the law of the land must prevail," he says.
Unsavoury truths tumbled out during the hearing, including a CD recording of a conversation between Vishva Vijaya and the peethadhipati of the Shirur mutt, in which the latter is heard admitting that some peethadhipatis have fathered children.
Local newspapers recently carried advertisements that properties of one of the eight mutts would be auctioned because they had been mortgaged by the peethadhipati, who had consented to stand guarantor to a defaulted borrower.
Possibly in acknowledgement of these murky incidents, Modi's trip to coastal Karnataka did not include a visit to the Krishna temple in Udupi, considered one of the most important temples in Karnataka.
Vishwesha Teertha had written to the PM inviting him to the temple. Vidyadheesha Tirtha, Swami of the Paryaya Palimar Mutt, said he was disappointed by Modi's decision to not visit the temple, despite visiting Udupi.
"I had expectations that he might come. I had invited Mr Modi and Mr Siddaramaiah to visit the Sri Krishna Mutt/Temple," he says
"Narendra Modi has not met the Pejawar Swami recently and has not even visited the Math. I can say this with authority. Possibly he has some information about the goings on there," says Vijaya Teertha.
Vijaya Teertha makes no bones about his mission -- a written constitution that he has already prepared and handed over to the court.
"For me this is dharmayudha. Just as Arjuna faced Bhishma and Dronacharya across the battlefield, I, too, am forced to face my guide and mentors in court."
The dispute is having a fall out within the BJP, with leaders such as Pramod Muthalik seeking the PM's intervention and other BJP leaders preferring to keep quiet on the matter.